by Davide Re

Skiing or sprinting?

For a long time, I couldn’t choose between them, so I didn’t.

As a teenager in Italy, I had two beloved sports, two events that were different in so many ways but came down to the same thing: a need for speed. The 400 metres and the downhill skiing slalom: my two first loves. 

The slalom lasts about 50 seconds and involves powering down a mountain at full speed, dropping about 200 metres in elevation and moving from side to side as your skis pass between two plastic poles (or gates).

The 400m, for me, used to last about 47 seconds when I was a teenager. These days, thankfully, it’s less than 45 at my best. In both events, power is key: every time you turn in slalom you’re using your legs to generate a lot of force, while on the track it’s just the same. More force, more speed.

I did both sports until the age of 16, at which point it was time to choose. That wasn’t easy. At the time I was attending a special high school for skiers and had finished third in the Italian Championships at slalom. On the track, just a few months later, I won gold in my age group at the Italian Championship over 300 metres.

Davide Re ()

Early on, the main reason I practised athletics was just to get fitter for skiing over the summer, but after a while that changed. When I got better results at athletics it gave me more confidence, making me believe that was the sport for me.

There were also not as many accidents on the track. I had two bad crashes in skiing, hurting my head badly both times.

The first time, I was training, playing around with my friends and trying to do a back flip on skis. I only got halfway round before I landed on my head. I was knocked out cold, and even when I woke up I didn't remember anything of the next eight hours.

The second time was in competition: I leaned into the mountain approaching the gates – which are made of hard, plastic poles – and I hit my head so hard on one that I was knocked out. I spent a couple of days in hospital before I was released, the doctors wanting to make sure there was no bleeding on my brain.

Thankfully, I was okay.

My parents, of course, were a bit worried but they also understood. My Dad loves skiing, as does my twin sister, and we were a sports-mad family so there was no way it was going to stop me.

My sister was a great skier, but she wasn’t so lucky with her accident. At the age of 21 she broke her femur really badly and it stopped her competitive career. Today, though, she’s a ski instructor.

For me, athletics won the battle in the end because it was the sport where I felt most confident. It’s a cycle: you bring more confidence to the race so you run better, which gives you more confidence going forward. In skiing, you could often do the right thing and get unlucky. Athletics just seemed fairer.

After school, I trained as a sprinter but in my spare time I qualified as a ski instructor, working at that until 2014. That year I got my personal best down to 46.00 for 400m and made the European Championships in Zurich – enough for me to commit to chasing the dream.

Davide Re ()

The next few years weren’t easy. It took another three years for me to break 46 seconds, and that breakthrough came because I chose to move to Rieti to train full-time after I got a contract with my club: Fiamme Gialle.

That was where I found the coach who could take me to the next level: Maria Chiara Milardi. We have a group of six 400m runners training together there, including former Italian record holder Matteo Galvan. We all run between 44 and 46 seconds and that competitiveness helps everyone: maybe I’m stronger on aerobic work but other guys are stronger at speed work.

But I don’t spend all year in Rieti. I’m still doing my medical studies in Turin and by now, I should really be in my seventh year but I’m only entering my fourth: in the spring and summer, athletics takes priority.

But so far, that commitment is paying off. In Geneva this summer I lowered the Italian record to 45.01 and two weeks later, in La Chaux de Fonds, I clocked 44.77. That earned me a place at the Monaco Diamond League, a meeting I had first attended as an 11-year-old, looking on from the stands in amazement.

Being back there this year as an athlete, mixing with stars I always watched on TV, seemed like a dream. For me, it was vindication that I made the right choice as a teenager.

The time I ran this year, 44.77, it’s not an exaggeration to say most people never saw it coming, and I know everybody says this but for me it’s the truth: I never stopped believing in myself.

Over so many years, every time I’d go to the track I’d say to myself, ‘Okay, today I have to run faster than yesterday.’ Step by step, day by day, I arrived here. From the slopes to the starting blocks.

Hopefully tomorrow will be faster again.